Colombo: Top-ranked sides India and South Africa will lock horns in a high-profile clash on the opening day of the Super Six stage of the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier in Colombo on Wednesday.
Pakistan will take on Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will play Ireland in the other matches on the opening day of the Super Six stage as teams compete to qualify for the top four places that will not only get them a place in the ICC Women's World Cup to be held in England and Wales from 24 June to 23 July, but also in the ICC Women's Championship.
World champion Australia, England, New Zealand and the West Indies have automatically qualified for the ICC Women's World Cup by finishing in the top four of the ICC Women's Championship (2014-16) which was decided with all eight teams playing each other in three ODIs.
Teams in the Super Six stage have carried points gained against other teams in the first round, and will play those qualified from the other group to decide the top four.
India, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the sides favoured on rankings, form and past performances, with Bangladesh and Ireland left to pull out some surprises if they have to upset calculations.
India, who are ranked fourth in the MRF Tyres ICC women's rankings, have a challenging match upfront since they had lost 2-1 to sixth-ranked South Africa at home in their ICC Women's Championship series in November 2014 and also in a practice game ahead of this tournament.
However, captain Mithali Raj is welcoming the biggest contest early on after comprehensive wins against Sri Lanka, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Thailand in the preliminary league.
She exuded confidence on her batting line-up and the Ekta Bisht-led spin attack, especially since the team is playing two of their matches at the P Sara Oval where they have acclimatised well with three preliminary games and the practice game.
"We have to play South Africa in the Super Six whether in the beginning or the last or the middle, so it doesn't really matter. In fact, that we are playing them in the first game is good in a way. The match against Pakistan (on 19 February) too is going to be competitive and we are looking forward to the upcoming matches," Mithali said.
South Africa have won all their matches - against Pakistan, Bangladesh, Scotland and Papua New Guinea, and captain Dane van Niekerk says the team have only been concentrating on their own performances.
"To be honest, we've not been following the performances of teams from the other group. We've been trying to concentrate as much as we can on our own performances. I'm sure they're doing really well, but at the end we're here to compete. We're at the business end of the tournament and we really want to work hard," Niekerk said.
In the other matches, the Sana Mir-led Pakistan will hold a definite edge over Sri Lanka with a more solid batting line-up consisting of the likes of Bismah Maroof, Javeria Khan and Nain Abidi while the match between Ireland and Bangladesh can be expected to be more even.
Pakistan captain Sana Mir: "We have had some notable individual performances. As far as I'm concerned, it's very important that we produce a team performance in batting and bowling. We've seen one or two bowlers doing well, but we have to have all five bowlers bowling in the right areas. All the top batters too need to take responsibility."
Sri Lanka captain Inoka Ranaweera said, "We have played well in the last few matches and that is how we are in the Super Six. Our aim now is to do well in these matches by concentrating and working hard, especially on our batting. Pakistan is not an easy opponent but we want to rectify whatever mistakes we have done in the past so that we can do well against them."
As for South Africa, their confidence would also be up because of the individual performances, which reflect in the latest MRF Tyres ICC ODI rankings for women, which take into account matches featuring teams with ODI status and are thus classified as ODIs. The ones featuring Zimbabwe, Scotland, Papua New Guinea and Thailand don't figure in that category because these teams do not have ODI status.